LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) – Suicide is one of the biggest problems black men face today. It's the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
With life-long customers, some local barbers realized there is a place where these things tend to come out in the chair.
“For years, barbershops have been the black man's safe haven,” barber Gary Turner said. “A lot of times people will confide in their barbers more than their wives.”
The strangeness of the outside world disappears into familiar faces when clients sit in Turner’s chair.
“First thing, when they sit down, we say ‘Are you good?’ That allows the person to kind of open up,” Turner said.
The barber said he takes pride in not only freshening up a fade but also cutting through his customers’ defenses.
“When one comes through that's not happy, you are going to be really compassionate for your brother, you're going to try to find out what's going on,” Turner said.
Mental health is a topic everyone in the shop said is not really talked about in the black community, especially amongst men.
“Everybody wants to be OK. ‘I'm alright.’ They think it's a sign of weakness,” Darryl Turpin said. “It doesn't mean you're weak, it just means you have an injury that needs to be addressed like any other injury.”
Turpin said barbers are on the front lines when it comes to mental health.
“If something is going on with you, if you're not acting your normal self, more than likely, Darren's going to know,” Turpin said to another customer sitting in the chair across from him.
Turpin, a therapist, has a personal connection to the issue of men not discussing their issues with others. He said his son DJ wrestled had mental health problems, himself into a bad situation and was shot and killed in the summer of 2018.
Two years later, Turpin came up with ‘DJ’s Plan’ and aims to train barbers on how to spot clients who may have issues they need to discuss.
“Not just recognizing it, but giving them the resources to do something,” Turpin said.
Turpin is holding forums to talk about what's getting in the way of people sharing their feelings and where people can go for help. It’s a mission the men said has been overlooked for too long.
“If we're able to save one African-American man that had mental health issues and having families deal with the trauma like I experienced, it be all worthwhile,” Turpin said.
It all starts with something as simple as a question: “Are you good?”
“We just got a let them know there is help and that’s our mission now,” Turner said.